Blog Archives

Beans: from garden to plate

Beans are a Kansas favorite in the vegetable garden. These warm-season plants are well acclimated to our tough Kansas summers. Once planted, they grow very fast and most varieties are ready to harvest in seven to eight weeks.

In the Demo Garden, beans are starting to produce. It is best to harvest when the pods are firm and crisp, but the bean seeds are not yet bulging. If at all possible, don’t pick them in the early morning when there is dew on the plants, as blight, a common bacterial disease, can easily be spread from one plant to another via splashing water droplets. So, make sure the plant foliage is dry before harvesting. 

Green beans are typically grown for their immature pods. Beans such as navy and lima beans are allowed to fully ripen and then the bean seeds are removed from the pods; these types of beans are harvested much later in the season.

A bean that’s ready to harvest

On April 28th, we planted four different varieties of bush style green beans (also called snap beans) in the Demo Garden: Heavy Harvest, Tenderette, Royal Burgundy, and Tendergreen Improved.

‘Heavy Harvest’ is a 53-day bean. This medium green-colored bean is also slender and grows about five inches long. So far, it is not living up to its namesake in that it has only yielded a small amount of beans so far.

‘Tenderette’ is a 58-day variety of bean. It also grows about five inches long and is slender. It is medium green in color. As with Heavy Harvest, this too only had a few ready to be picked.

‘Royal Burgundy’ is a 55-day variety that generally grows about five inches long. It is a slender bean with a deep purple coloring that is very beautiful and makes it very easy to see against the green foliage. Again, there were only a handful of beans to be found, but we are hopeful that with a little more time, they will start producing more.

‘Tendergreen Improved’ is a 52-day variety. The coloring, although still green, had a bit of a lighter, yellowish undertone compared to the other green beans. These beans are a little longer, growing up to six inches in length and is also plumper than the other varieties. The thing that is most impressive about Tendergreen so far is the yield. While it makes sense that there are more harvestable beans of this variety right now because its “days to maturity” (DTM) is shorter, this variety is still likely to out-produce the other varieties – but we will keep you updated!

So how do they cook up?  Using a quick, identical technique on each variety, we tested them “tender-crisp” style. After the ends were trimmed, a ¼ cup water was added to a skillet along with the beans and cooked covered for three minutes. Then the cover was removed to allow the water to fully evaporate. A touch of butter was then added to each. 

My personal favorite is the Tendergreen Improved. It was the most tender of the four varieties tested as well as the most prolific producer. Tenderette and Heavy Harvest where just slightly tougher than Tendergreen. Although the most unique to look at, the Royal Burgundy was the toughest of all the varieties, but interestingly, it turns from purple to green when cooked.

One final note: there was some significant stippling on the leaves of the beans, which is an indicator of spider mites. Spider mites are tiny, barely visible spider-relatives that suck juice from the underside of leaves and are common during hot, dry weather.

Stippling on bean leaves

As a first defense against this garden pest, after harvesting the beans, we used the garden hose with a jet spray setting and shot the underside of the leaves with as much coverage as possible, and we plan to repeat this process a few times a week. Hopefully these pesky critters won’t ruin the harvest!

Spraying spider mites off of under side of bean leaves

Click here to learn more about growing beans or spider mites.

By: Maureen Wilbeck, Master Gardener

Prepping for Fall & Beating the Heat

Many years, fall is my favorite time in the garden here in Kansas. The tricky thing is getting yourself into a “fall” mindset when it is still blazingly hot in early August. Yes, now is the time to plan, prepare, and plant your fall vegetable garden!

28637375082_2a128d6b64We started seeds for some of our fall plantings about 4-5 weeks ago: broccoli, cauliflower, Japanese winter bunching onion, kale, and bok choy.

I moved them outside onto the table near the building last week, so they don’t look quite this nice anymore. The flea beetles are going to do a number on our fall brassicas, I’m afraid.

Despite the heat, I wanted to get at least some of these plants in the ground, because they are drying out too fast in the cell trays.

Timing isn’t too critical on some of these, but the broccoli and cauliflower may not have a long enough growing season if we don’t plant them soon.

We also have a number or root vegetables that need to be planted soon if we want to get a good crop.

Things like lettuce and spinach need to wait a few more weeks, because the soil is just too warm to plant now. They also grow faster, so we can afford to wait a bit longer to plant.


In preparation for planting some of our root vegetables next week, we put a thick layer of straw mulch down in some of the planting areas. Organic mulches like straw can cool the soil up to 10 degrees in addition to helping with soil moisture. Hopefully we’ll get better germination because of the straw.

For more ideas and techniques about fall vegetable gardens, here are several posts about fall gardening from a few years ago:

Fall Gardening: Why Try It and What to Plant

Fall Gardening: Less Common Vegetables for Kansas

Fall Gardening: When to Plant

Fall Gardening: Dealing with Late Summer Heat

Fall Gardening: Dealing with Late Fall Cold

Fall Gardening: Kansas Climate Conditions for Extending into the Winter

Fall Gardening: Using Row Covers

Fall Gardening: Overwintering Vegetables for Spring

Friday PhotoEssay

Today has been so crazy that I almost forgot it was Friday! Last week I had a good excuse – Tomato Day – for not getting a PhotoEssay post done. I don’t know what my excuse is for today, other than I have somehow been busy all day. I did finish the first draft of a publication on Fall Gardening that I think I will probably break down into pieces for this fall.

Although it has still be nasty hot this week, a few days of more overcast skies have made it not seem quite so bad. I’m also looking forward to the Sunday forecast…91 for a high and 65 for a low!?!? I don’t know if I can handle the cold! Okay, I’ll stop looking at the long range forecast now, because I’ll just be disappointed when it gets to be August 15th and it isn’t 83 degrees and rainy.

Between the late planting, the herbicide damage, and the heat, we haven’t gotten a single ripe tomato out of the garden this year (except for the hanging basket cherry tomatoes). It is kind of a bummer to not have tomatoes for the second year in a row, even though it was an unfortunate set of circumstances that brought it on this year. The picture is from one of the ‘Solar Fire’ plants, which does have a few green tomatoes set. I’m guessing they were set during that partial week of mid-90s back in the first half of July. ‘Solar Fire’ is a heat set variety, so it would be more likely to set in those conditions. It is one of the only plants with much to show for tomatoes so far.

The tomatillos, on the other hand, are doing quite well. This is an heirloom ‘Purple’ tomatillo, which produces these bright purple 1 1/2 inch fruit. They are pretty small for tomatillos, but I’m super impressed by the color! Often purple vegetables are not as brilliantly colored in “real life” as in the catalogs.

This is the first of the Litchi Tomatoes I’ve seen starting to ripen. It isn’t quite there yet…it should be a deeper red color. Aren’t those spines impressive, though?

We may have planted the ‘Cardinal’ Basil in the Edible Flowers garden, but I keep wishing we had a cutting flower garden this year, because they would be gorgeous in a bouquet!

We found this butterfly out hanging around one of the melons earlier this week. It was acting a little lethargic, so hopefully it had either laid some eggs to finish its lifecycle or it was able to become more energetic later on. I think it’s a Black Swallowtail…anyone have a definite opinion?

This is the first flower I’ve seen on our ‘Thai Red Roselle’ (edible hibiscus). The plants are not as red as I was expecting them to be (see my comments on the purple tomatillos), and the buds are also really tiny. I think it is technically the calyxes (the part behind the petals) that are left behind after the flower has bloomed  that we want to use for teas and cooking. We’ll be keeping an eye on it in the next couple weeks.

Have a great (cooler?!?) weekend!

Heat Set Tomatoes

I think I’ve mentioned a couple times that we were watching our heat-set tomatoes for signs of fruit set during the heat. A few weeks later, we are not at a point where we can really get a good idea of what is going on with the different varieties. The results so far are pretty interesting! The things I’m looking for are the number of tomatoes, the size of the tomatoes, and any apparent deformities.

We didn’t choose the Marmande tomatoes for any reputed heat set characteristics, but it looks like they must tolerate the heat a little bit, since these tomatoes are good sized and most likely set during the hot weather. They don’t look stupendous, but they’re okay.

This is ‘Sunmaster’. It has a few tomatoes on it, and they are large enough to indicate fruit set during the heat. While not numerous, the tomatoes look pretty good.

Right now, ‘Solar Fire’ looks like the loser for the year. There are only a couple tomatoes on it, and they are still very small. This most likely indicates that they didn’t set until after the worst of the heat broke a couple weeks ago. It’s still better than nothing, though.

If ‘Solar Fire’ is losing, I think the ‘BHN-189’ is winning. This plant definitely has the most tomatoes and the largest tomatoes on it. They definitely set during the worst of the heat! I’m a little concerned about the scarring on the fruit, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

‘Super Sioux’ isn’t looking particularly super. The two tomatoes that are set don’t look too bad, but there are only two tomatoes, that I saw. The only thing that puts it above ‘Solar Fire’ is that the tomatoes look nicer and they are larger, indicating earlier set.

The ‘Florida 91’ plant is in the middle of the field right now. There are a decent number of tomatoes, but not as many as ‘BHN-189’, and some of the fruit are scarred or misshapen. The plant doesn’t look as nice either.

‘Sun Leaper’ is also middle to bottom of the pack. Like ‘Sunmaster’ the tomatoes look pretty nice, but like ‘Super Sioux’, there are few to be found.

The moral of this story is that even “Heat Set” tomatoes don’t love continuous heat above 100 degrees (and really, who/what does?), but they still limp along and set a little bit.

Of course, as these tomatoes ripen, the other question to address is this: Is having a tomato that doesn’t taste very good better than having no tomatoes at all? I’m skeptical of the flavor potential for several of these varieties, but everyone has a different tolerance level for tomato flavor. Stay tuned for more on these tomatoes in the next few weeks!